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What is a Malanga?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Malanga is a brown, hairy tuber in the Arum family that is cultivated in many tropical regions around the world. It is closely related to taro root, although the two plants are found in different genera. Like taro, this tuber usually is ground into a paste that can be used to make a rich, starchy flour that can be used in an assortment of foods. People who have food allergies sometimes find that malanga is a great hypoallergenic flour alternative because the particles of starch are very small, reducing the risk of an allergic reaction.

Unique Taste

Consumers of this tuber describe the flavor as nutty and very earthy, and some people say that it tastes more like an nut than a vegetable. In addition to being ground up for flour, the corms also can be sliced and fried, stewed, or grilled. The leaves also are used as sources of roughage, appearing in stews and in other dishes while they are still young and tender.

Function and Appearance

Technically, malanga roots are corms, meaning that they are not roots but underground stems that are used to store valuable nutrients for the parent plant. This makes them extremely valuable nutritionally, because they contain concentrated nutrients. At first glance, the corms of the plant look sort of like hirsute yams, with dark brown to orange-ish skin covered in wiry hair. When split open, they have creamy white flesh.

Above ground, this plant has broad, shapely leaves. Many people cultivate the plant as an ornamental, and in some cases, people are not aware that their decorative plants have an edible function as well. This plant has several other names, including tannia, tannier, cocoyam, and yautia, and this can add to the confusion even further, especially because they are used to refer to a many species in the Xanthosoma genus, all of which have varying characteristics. Malanga for eating and products made from it, such as flour, can be found in some Latin American markets, and ornamental varieties are available at garden stores.

Popularity around the World

Food historians believe that the plant was first domesticated in South America or Central America and that it spread slowly to other civilizations in that part of the world. When European explorers were introduced to the starchy tuber, they carried it with them to colonies in other regions of the world, resulting in widespread tropical cultivation of this tuber. Foods made with malanga are very popular in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, although in most other regions, the plant is considered inferior to taro root.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon333892 — On May 08, 2013

Malanga is very well known in Cuba. All Cuban parents feed that to their kids. It also great for people or babies with acid reflux. The people who are talking about eating the elephant ears plants, be careful. There are several species of malanga and not all of them are edible. The best ones are the white malanga and the purple. You can find it in the Hispanic supermarket or just go to Miami and ask any Cuban.

By anon289068 — On Sep 02, 2012

@anon176565: Yes, my husband did the same thing for me, and it works. I don't have to take Prevacid anymore.

By anon241469 — On Jan 18, 2012

Malanga also grows in Africa and is very popular there, can be oven roasted or boiled.

By anon176565 — On May 16, 2011

I've suffer from GERD for at least two years, and recently it became unbearable. My husband came home with a malanga root. He cooked it like you would a baked potato. I have eaten three in the past two months and have only had one attack.

By anon135596 — On Dec 19, 2010

We in Suriname (a Dutch speaking country in South America near Brazil) know the "malanga" as "pomtayer" and we make a special dish out of it :called "pom". We grate it and bake it with chicken or other meat for a certain amount of time in the oven!! It is delicious and for us Surinamese people it is a special dish! And especially during December, wow, nearly every one in Suriname prepares it!

The pom needs more ingredients, but the list would be too long to write it down! (sorry)

By anon99695 — On Jul 27, 2010

Malanga also grows in Albania and is very popular there.

By anon96813 — On Jul 17, 2010

I live here in Central Florida. It appears as if there are many volunteer malanga or yautia plants throughout the wooded areas. Are these really malanga plants or some other species? These

plants all look exactly as in the taro photos.

By anon95456 — On Jul 12, 2010

I planted three small malanga roots about a year ago in San Antonio, Texas. Today, I have almost 20 plants. They are not only beautiful, but I'm waiting to be able to get some of them out and eat them.

By anon80573 — On Apr 27, 2010

Malanga is in a Haitian recipe!

By anon54088 — On Nov 26, 2009

I live in Arizona and I'm wondering

if I could grow boniato and malanga

here in the Southwestern desert of the

USA. And if I can, where can I find sprouts to plant? Thank you

By anon42299 — On Aug 20, 2009

how long do you leave the malanga in the ground?

By anon41634 — On Aug 16, 2009

To anon8911, that sounds like the results of eating elephant ear which from what I read is very closely related to malanga and taro and looks extremely similar. maybe the malanga species used for eating doesn't have these crystals. Decorative elephant ear contains tiny needle-like calcium oxalate crystals that can make your mouth and throat burn. My plant taxonomy teacher told us the only thing to do if a child has gotten into the elephant ear (and is crying) is to have them wash their mouth with milk to soften the crystals and then eat bread as the texture might help brush the softened crystals out. They are beautiful plants and I couldn't tell them apart from an edible tropical plant. Always be careful what you eat, as many things look similar, but are not quite the same :-)

By anon17221 — On Aug 25, 2008

Hello, I have a question...what are malanga, yautia, yucca?? Are they vegetables? What is their caloric value? Thanks for taking the time to read this. Norinda

By bigmetal — On Feb 25, 2008

malanga is closely related to alocasia plants...which have oxalic acid in the stem. although it is edible, you have to boil it for a long time before eating it. i'm not sure how long it should be boiled.

By anon8911 — On Feb 24, 2008

I have a malanga plant that after three years I took it out of the ground. The root weighted about 10 lbs. After boiling and serving it, everyone that took one bite had a feeling like if their lips and tongue were on fire. Why is this? I had never heard of this happening!

By anon7663 — On Jan 31, 2008

The malanga is correctly described. It grows near streams. To cook, you cut the stems, cut off the roots, peel and cut up in smaller pieces. Malangas are boiled in water with some salt. Our forefathers in the mountains of Puerto Rico would eat it with codfish (bacalo) and olive oil. They may have added lettuce and tomatoes.

A variant of the malanga is the malangota. The malangota has violet streaks of coloring of the mass. Not evey town in Puerto Rico may have both species. Aibonito is a town that has both. They grow wild.

We need to clarify that the "yautia" yam is altogether different as they grow in groups of yams around the base the plant. A "yautia" plan can have one to over a dozen of individual yams buried around it. Each "yautia" yam has to be dug out of the dirt. Whereas the malanga is just one long yam beneath and part of the plant. You cut around the stem to severe the roots and then yank it out.

Jaime Alvelo

aibonito caribe net

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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